I have been trying to write this article for several weeks now, which in and of itself is not really a problem. What has been tying me in guilty knots is that I had set myself a publishing schedule and was not sticking to it. I kept putting it off because I was too tired or more interested in painting or whatever. I have procrastifaffed left, right and centre. I called myself lazy.
This guilt is silly because I am not being paid for these posts, and nothing happens if I don’t post on schedule. And yet, I have been berating myself for not publishing when I told myself I would. I had made a rod for my own back. As I do. This is why I don’t usually set concrete goals very often, particularly for stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. So I always end up feeling guilty. The thing is, that other stuff IS being achieved, and nine times out of ten, I return to the original thing, and it gets done eventually.
But still, I tell myself stories that I am lazy and apathetic and prone to procrastifaffing, which of course, everyone knows is all kinds of morally wrong…or so I thought.
And then, I read this on Twitter:
Remember kids, laziness is a Puritan vice invented to induce shame when people listen to the needs of their bodies. It doesn’t exist. You’re not lazy.
And that got me curious. Really? Could this be true? Was it really a Puritan thing? I had heard about the Protestant work ethic all my life but didn’t twig that they were the same beast. And what did it have to do with listening to my body? I had to find out more, so down the rabbit hole I went!
This notion grabbed my attention because it feeds into my efforts to slow down and the negative emotions that have been stirred up. My brain tells me that if I go slower, I am, by definition, not going as fast as I can and achieving as much as I can. After working a full week, I am not hustling to make a six-figure salary from my hobbies. I have cut back on habits and commitments that take my time but don’t make me feel fulfilled or happy. I have more unscheduled minutes in my days now. Shouldn’t I be filling them up with something with a measurable output? After all, am I not defined by the things I do? Am I not only worth something if I am slogging away and telling everyone how busy I am? Ermmmm… no. Stop it!
Sure, I could be doing more, but at what cost? I am now reaching a point where I can breathe, feel rested and be excited about choosing to sit and look at the birds in our garden. I have the space in my days to make last-minute adjustments if I see a need I can fill. So I don’t really want to give that up.
You see, I have a long history of burning myself out by doing too much for other people, even to the point of making myself unwell. I used to allow people to walk all over me because I thought that setting boundaries was a terrible thing to do. Suffering and sacrifice were held up as noble qualities, as was sticking to something no matter what, for decades. The trouble is that it was making me physically and emotionally unwell. No more.
It was not only external pressures and expectations that drove me. I am also one to get myself all tangled up in my habits and processes to the point where I feel I MUST do them to stay on an even keel. Slowly but surely, they always become more complex and involved over time. Time to weed that out too.
The problem is that taking my foot off the accelerator has me feeling guilty and lazy in more areas than just my writing process. So you can see why the tweet above caught my attention. It is proposing the polar opposite of the worldview and values I seek to free myself from. Intriguing!
The Cambridge Dictionary definition of Lazy:
- Not willing to work or use any effort:
Managers had complained that the workers were lazy and unreliable.
Get out of bed, you lazy thing!
He’s too lazy to walk to work.
This is the general definition of lazy or laziness that we are all familiar with. Unfortunately, there is no reference at all to any Puritanical roots, so I had to dig a little deeper to find where the word originated, other than its etymological roots. Eventually, I came across several articles referencing a book by Dr Devon Price called Laziness Does Not Exist. I have not read the book, but I found an article he penned.
The hatred of laziness is deeply embedded in the history of the United States. The value of hard work and the evils of sloth are baked into our national myths and our shared value system. Thanks to the legacies of imperialism and slavery, as well as the ongoing influence that the United States exerts on the rest of the world both in media and in military force, the Laziness Lie has managed to spread its tendrils into almost every country and culture on the planet.
He goes on to say:
The word “lazy” first appeared in English around 1540; even back then, it was used in a judgmental way to refer to someone who supposedly didn’t like work or effort. Many etymologists believe it came from either the Middle Low German lasich, which meant “feeble” or “weak,” or from the Old English lesu, which meant “false” or “evil.”
He references the US, but given that Australia was also colonised by the same nation and today is heavily influenced by the US, it is fair to say that the same is true here.
Devon explains further:
One of the major factors that caused the hatred of laziness and the moralization of work to spread throughout the United States was the arrival of the Puritans. The Puritans had long believed that if a person was a hard worker, it was a sign that God had chosen them for salvation. Conversely, if a person couldn’t focus on the task at hand or couldn’t self-motivate, that was a sign that they had already been damned. This meant, of course, that there was no need to feel sympathy for people who struggled or failed to meet their responsibilities.
This, of course, was latched onto by those outside the church and was weaponised via slavery in the US. He asserts that this worldview was the foundation for capitalism.
Interesting huh? I had no idea.
And so … we now have a hustle culture where every spare moment is pressed into the service of making money. If you are not working for someone else — and even if you are — you should be working for yourself in your “free time” to make extra cash. Bah humbug.
I acknowledge that these days it is only sometimes a choice for many. But for some, it’s what they need to do to survive. This is not a slight against them. It’s the system that’s the issue.
There is a real trap in trying to do everything as quickly and efficiently as possible. And there is a trap in monetising our every waking moment, especially for creatives. Have you ever noticed that doing your hobby or passion at someone else’s behest sucks the joy right out of it? Do you want to be speeding towards death? Or do you want to slow down and notice what’s happening around you? Do you want to put a fence around what feeds your soul? Do you want to have some space in your life to be responsive to the needs of your loved ones? Slow down.
Sometimes I am simply procrastinating when I call myself lazy, but why do I do that? Even with things I really want to do, just for fun, I find myself procrastifaffing.
Procrastination is all about delaying something unnecessarily. I call it procrastifaffing because I usually fill the time doing something else in an effort to fool myself into thinking I am being productive. Like cleaning out the pantry instead of editing my book. Or knitting when I need to be completing coursework.
When I started looking into procrastination in conjunction with laziness, I came across the notion that procrastination is tied to our instinctual fight/flight/freeze/fawn responses.
The assertion is that we procrastinate because the body is in a threat state, i.e. it freezes up because of all the things piling up that we need to do. When the body goes into that mode, it wants you to hibernate and not push through. That’s the protection mechanism! It is body chemistry, not a failing in our willpower; it is a symptom of the autonomic nervous system doing its thing. We feel tired and drained and apathetic, and like the only thing that will fix us is a good long sleep or doing something else soothing.
So, what is the threat that sparks this response? Sometimes when we procrastinate, we are avoiding unpleasant emotions. Sometimes it’s a habitual roadblock where we tell ourselves stories about how hard it will be and convince ourselves that that is the truth of the situation. Sometimes it’s resistance. And sometimes, we are just downright exhausted from making so many decisions all the time. They can all be subconsciously perceived as threats to our bodies or minds.
The concepts of laziness and procrastination, of course, are deeper than the parts I have touched on here, but for me, I know I am not unwilling to work hard, so I can rule out laziness for myself and look to other influences — like conditioned values and perceived threats. I think perhaps the truth of laziness lies somewhere in the middle. I am not one given to be unwilling to expend effort to achieve something, but I suspect some people are. Though perhaps there are reasons for that too. I don’t know. I am no expert. Everyone must do the work for themselves. If, of course, it bothers them.
Me? I need to keep treading the path of deep work to find my path. I am the queen of giving myself guilt trips. I sling them on my shoulders and feel their weight in a way that I do not do to anyone else. I am far more compassionate with others than I am myself, and that needs to change.
So now what?
In my quest to develop a slow lifestyle and embrace it with guilt-free enthusiasm, I need to remove these old and mistaken values and take the time to listen to my body and mind.
I want a slow, restful and considered life, but I also know that this path is at odds with our capitalist culture, so it will be hard work. However, the long, slow way round is beautiful, and that is so very worthwhile. Perhaps even more so than earning money and being hyper-productive.
If you are anything like me, you are not lazy at all, you’re probably just overloaded. So here are some things I want to try when I feel like procrastinating, perhaps you’d like to try some too:
- Move — go for a walk, shake my arms, dance, stretch, do a workout.
- Breathwork — there are lots of options here, but as an easy start I will make my exhale twice as long as my inhale to activate my parasympathetic nervous system.
- Storytime — tell myself a different story about the way I perceive the things I need/want to do. In other words, I will reframe the stories I tell myself.
- Rearrange — I will break things down into smaller tasks, go slow and consider if I can do the thing differently.
- Rest — sometimes, the best thing I can do for myself is to put everything aside for a moment and rest. I can sleep or rest. Do it without any external stimuli, no books, no binge-watching anything. Just relax your body AND mind.
- Meditate or journal — focus on what sensations are present in my body, what is happening in my body? What thoughts are passing through my mind, and ask myself whether they are true? What am I afraid of? Think about how I have spent my energy over the preceding days. Is my tank empty?
- Change focus — do something else for a short period — read, go for a drive, watch something that will give me a big belly laugh.
- Boundaries — set boundaries that align with my values. If I do not, people WILL take advantage of my willingness to work and help. Remember that I cannot function well in society if I am perpetually burned out and busy.
- Radical acceptance and compassion — remember that I am where I am in life, be kind to myself, and give myself the same advice I would give a dear friend if they came to me for help. No more shame!
Looking back at my procrastifaffing with this article, there were three elements to what was driving it. The first was that I have been busy with work in the past couple of weeks, and there has not been a lot of energy left for heavy-duty thinking after work. The second aspect is that this topic has been difficult to wrestle with. It has taken some deep thought and self-examination, which is distinctly uncomfortable; I was avoiding that. The third element is that I was rushing myself. This shift in perspective takes time to percolate and comes out in drips rather than a fully formed adaptation in one easy pour. I cannot say I’ve got it all straight in my head yet. That will come as I continue to percolate and let the drips soak in and change me. It’s a slow process. Did I procrastinate? Yes. Was I lazy? No.
I don’t believe that a slow lifestyle means that I am lazy, and I accept that life will have other ideas about just how much I have on my plate at any one time. However, I think that this lifestyle will build a level of resilience that will carry me through those times.